Emotional Outlet: Physical Activity

Emotional Outlet: Physical Activity

April 11, 2024

Living with a brain tumor, whether as a patient or caregiver, can be an emotionally challenging journey. While medical treatments are crucial, incorporating physical movement into your routine can serve as a powerful emotional outlet, promoting overall well-being. This article explores the benefits of activities like hiking, exercise, and engaging with nature or gardening for individuals navigating the complexities of brain tumors.

Regular physical activity can have a profoundly positive impact on depression, anxiety, and trauma. It also relieves stress, improves memory, helps you sleep better, and boosts your overall mood. And you don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits. Research indicates that modest amounts of physical activity can make a real difference. Brain tumor patients often have mobility issues due to the placement of the tumor, surgery, and treatment side effects, so it is always best to consult your healthcare team before doing physical activities.

Physical Activity and Depression

Studies show that movement can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication—but without the side-effects, of course. As one example, a recent study done by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%. In addition to relieving depression symptoms, research also shows that maintaining an exercise schedule can prevent you from relapsing.

Physical activity is a powerful depression fighter for several reasons. Most importantly, it promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. It also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals in your brain that energize your spirits and make you feel good. Finally, exercise can also serve as a distraction, allowing you to find some quiet time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression.

Physical Activity and Anxiety

Movement is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment. It relieves tension and stress, boosts physical and mental energy, and enhances well-being through the release of endorphins. Anything that gets you moving can help, but you’ll get a bigger benefit if you pay attention instead of zoning out.

Try to notice the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, for example, or the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of the wind on your skin. By adding this mindfulness element—really focusing on your body and how it feels as you move—you’ll not only improve your physical condition faster, but you may also be able to interrupt the flow of constant worries running through your head.

Physical Activity and Stress

Have you ever noticed how your body feels when you’re under stress? Your muscles may be tense, especially in your face, neck, and shoulders, leaving you with back or neck pain or painful headaches. You may feel a tightness in your chest, a pounding pulse, or muscle cramps. You may also experience problems such as insomnia, heartburn, stomachache, diarrhea, or frequent urination. The worry and discomfort of all these physical symptoms can in turn, lead to even more stress, creating a vicious cycle between your mind and body.

“The anticiptory grief, stress, and anxiety manifested into horrendous headaches after my mom was diagnosed with a glioblastoma. I had constant thoughts of ‘if my mom has a brain tumor, I’m going to get one’ and it created a lot of issues phsyically, mentally, and emotionally for me. I went to chiropractors, acupuncturists, anyone I could find, but noticed I felt better after I attended a yoga class or ran around the block. It was a temporary feeling at first, but combining phsycial movement with going to therapy really helped me.” – Courtney W. (Caregiver)

Exercising is an effective way to break this cycle. In addition to releasing endorphins in the brain, physical activity helps to relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body. Since the body and mind are so closely linked, when your body feels better so, too, will your mind.

Physical Activity and PTSD/Trauma

Evidence suggests that by really focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise, you can actually help your nervous system become “unstuck” and begin to move out of the immobilization stress response that characterizes PTSD or trauma. Instead of allowing your mind to wander, pay close attention to the physical sensations in your joints and muscles, even your insides as your body moves. Exercises that involve cross-movement and that engage both arms and legs—such as walking, running, swimming, weight training, or dancing—are some of your best choices.

Outdoor activities like hiking, sailing, mountain biking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and skiing (downhill and cross-country) have also been shown to reduce the symptoms of PTSD.

Incorporating physical movement into your routine can be a transformative tool for emotional well-being during the brain tumor journey. Whether it’s hiking in nature, engaging in regular exercise, connecting with the outdoors, or practicing mindfulness through activities like gardening or yoga, finding what resonates with you is key.

Sources: Helpguide.org, National Insitute of Health

Types of Physical Activities

Running, Walking, and Hiking for Healing:

  • Benefits: Running, walking, and hiking all provide both physical exercise and a connection with nature, offering a dual therapeutic experience.
  • Getting Started: Choose paths that match your fitness level, start with shorter trails, and gradually progress. AllTrails is a resourceful app to find spots near you!
  • Emotional Impact: The rhythmic movement, fresh air, and scenic surroundings can reduce stress and anxiety.

Exercise as Empowerment:

  • Benefits: Regular exercise boosts mood, reduces fatigue, and enhances overall physical health.
  • Getting Started: Consult with your healthcare team to determine suitable exercises based on your health condition. For free classes, you can always look on YouTube. Also, ClassPass is a wonderful app that allows you to try out different classes in your area!
  • Emotional Impact: Physical activity releases endorphins, promoting a sense of empowerment and accomplishment.

Nature Connection and Gardening:

  • Benefits: Engaging with nature, whether through a walk in the park or tending to a garden, fosters a sense of tranquility.
  • Getting Started: Start with short outdoor activities, and consider creating a small garden or caring for potted plants.
  • Emotional Impact: Gardening provides a mindful and purposeful activity, promoting relaxation and a connection to the cycle of life.

Group Activities for Support:

  1. Benefits: Participating in group activities, such as outdoor classes or walking groups, provides social support.
  2. Getting Started: Look for local community programs, support groups, or fitness classes tailored to your needs.
  3. Emotional Impact: Sharing experiences with others facing similar challenges fosters a sense of community and understanding.

Mind-Body Practices:

  • Benefits: Practices like yoga and tai chi combine physical movement with mindfulness, promoting emotional well-being.
  • Getting Started: Explore beginner-friendly classes or online resources for guided sessions.
  • Emotional Impact: Mind-body practices enhance emotional resilience by integrating movement with mental focus and relaxation.